Indonesia’s election: faster, better … boring?

July 8, 2009

By Sara Webb

It takes India weeks to complete an election and it never passes without flashes of violence.

But the much younger democracy of Indonesia voted calmly for their president on Wednesday and got the voting over in five hours with a good indication of the result — a second term for the reformist ex-general Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono — out just a couple of hours later.

“Faster, Better,” was the racy campaign slogan of Jusuf Kalla, one of Yudhoyono’s challengers. He trailed in a distant

third, but his rally cry somehow seems fitting for the country’s remarkable journey since the chaotic coda of President Suharto’s authoritarian rule a decade ago.

And yet if you talk to many Indonesians, they’ll tell you that the whole campaign, which kicked off in January and encompassed parliamentary elections before Wednesday’s vote, has been one long bore.

The series of televised debates by the presidential and vice presidential candidates were so polite and deferential, so Javanese really, that it was hard at times to believe that here were three teams actually competing against each other. Perhaps it’s unfair to mention it on his victory day, but Yudhoyono himself has been known to send listener’s off to sleep with his speeches.

Maybe “boring” is good, a sign that democracy isn’t a novelty anymore — just a fact of Indonesian life.

Still, there were moments during the election campaign when things got a little bit edgier in this predominantly Muslim country, where religion is increasingly a sensitive subject.

There were snide remarks about whether the wife of Yudhoyono’s running mate, Boediono, was a Catholic (she is Muslim), and whether the wives of Yudhoyono and Boediono ought to wear a headscarf, like the wives of their opponents.

And while Wednesday’s vote was an illustration of how much Indonesia has changed in the 11 years since Suharto’s ignominious exit, there were many reminders of that less glorious past.

Yudhoyono’s rivals, Megawati Sukarnoputri and Kalla, picked Suharto-era generals with terrible human rights records — Prabowo Subianto and Wiranto — as their running mates.

Prabowo, who was married to one of Suharto’s daughters, was responsible for the kidnapping and torture of some of Megawati’s supporters in 1998. Now, the two are the best of friends and Prabowo, a rousing speaker, most likely has his eye on the 2014 election.

“I think Indonesia needs a decisive military man. SBY? He is so Obama. When he speaks, he sounds exactly like Obama!,” said Lilik S. Wardi, a housewife in Surabaya after she had cast her vote. “So I chose Prabowo. I didn’t want a president who copies Obama’s style.”

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Were you actually hopeful that they’ll have a riot!?

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